3250 Wilshire Boulevard


While some 19th-century American citiesNew Orleans would be an examplelater withered when entrenched movers and shakers misunderstood the necessity of accepting new blood, the more successful metropolises have always apprehended the economic wisdom of welcoming all comers. There were few who saw this better than Henry William O'Melveny, who'd arrived in Los Angeles, population 5,600, at age 10. Born on August 10, 1859, in Marion County, Illinois, he came from there with his father, mother, and three siblings to settle in the dusty western outpost, getting in on the ground floor of the coming Anglo boom. His father, Harvey, was a judge and lawyer who was instrumental in gaining the city a transcontinental railroad connection—then, rather than pulling up the ladder, it was most assuredly "come one, come all." Once the tracks were completed on September 5, 1876, the rough edges of the nearly century-old City of Angels peeled away. Henry O'Melveny was graduated with the first full senior class from Los Angeles High School the next year, received a Bachelor of Philosophy degree from Berkeley before he was 20, then read law and was admitted to the bar in 1881. The firm he founded with Jackson Graves in 1885, which became the fabled O'Melveny & Myers in 1939, continues to this day and is known simply as "O'Melveny."

While it was never a hardscrabble life for Henry O'Melveny as it once was for his protégé and neighbor Oscar Lawler, his motivation beyond his model father was certainly the exciting growth of Southern California in his young years. As attorney for old Californio families such as the Sepulvedas and the Dominguezes, and with his sister Adell married to James Calvert Foy, son of L.A. pioneer Samuel Calvert Foy, O'Melveny became as entrenched in the Southland as any Anglo could, but it seems he never became complacent or lost his enthusiasm for Southern California's particular brand of expansionism. Established and on the rise, he married Ohio-born Marie Antoinette ("Nette") Schilling on May 28, 1887, with three boys born to them over the next eight years. The family was living at 1148 South Pearl—later addressed 1148 South Figueroa—by 1891, where they would stay until the expanding downtown business district drove fashion to new residential developments. While many longstanding affluent Angelenos chose the West Adams district, then referred to as the West Side of Los Angeles, an alternative, created when Gaylord Wilshire opened his original four-block subdivision in 1895, was out along an extended Wilshire Boulevard. The O'Melvenys chose the latter. By now thoroughly Old Guard, they sought the services of perhaps the most prestigious architects in the city to give them a substantial suburban seat at the southwest corner of New Hampshire Avenue. Their lots 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the Wilshire Boulevard Heights tract measured 150 feet, extending back 240 feet on the side street. Sumner P. Hunt was at the time in partnership with Wesley Eager, with Silas Burns just joining the firm; the house they designed was in the ultrafashionable English domestic style, which shunned the Victorian mode and was suggestive of age and permanence, with all the charm of the shire. On February 20, 1908, the Department of Buildings issued a permit authorizing construction; the document indicates an initial address of 657 South New Hampshire Avenue, suiting the house's eastward orientation. As described by the Los Angeles Times on April 5 while in progress, the primary entrance of the O'Melveny house was from the east into an 18-by-32-foot hall. This led to a 19-by-30-foot living room finished in red birch; upstairs were five bedrooms and four baths.

A rendering by Hunt, Eager & Burns appeared in the Los Angeles Times on April 5, 1908

Along with seven live-in servants, Henry and Nette O'Melveny and their sons Stuart, Donald, and John were at home at 3250 Wilshire Boulevard by 1909. Henry and Nette would remain in the house for over 30 years—but they wouldn't remain on Wilshire for as long. There were a number of houses moved away from the boulevard as the thoroughfare began to commercialize in the early '20s. The Greene & Greene house built in 1909 by the O'Melveny's next-door neighbor to the west, Earle C. Anthony, addressed 666 South Berendo Street, was moved to Beverly Hills in 1923; Howard Verbeck's 2619 Wilshire migrated to Lucerne Boulevard in 1924 as had 3301 the year before. The house at 3325 migrated to Fremont Place. In addition to being the family home, the O'Melveny house was certainly comely enough to warrant being moved rather than demolished; the economics of the time that made cutting a big house into transportable pieces to be reassembled elsewhere was buttressed in the case of 3250 Wilshire by its lot having become extremely valuable by the end of the '20s. Henry and Nette no doubt had had enough of the exponentially increasing traffic on Wilshire, not to mention living in the afternoon shadow of the 10-story Talmadge apartments that had replaced the Anthony house and across the street from the elaborate filling station built four years before on the site of the Lawler residence. As did quite a few boulevard homeowners, the O'Melvenys decided to redevelop their own property rather than sell it. After the Department of Building and Safety issued a permit on April 8, 1930, they had their treasured 22-year-old house jacked up and trundled two miles west to a new lot at 501 South Plymouth Boulevard in Windsor Square—just up from two others moved from the boulevard, 3200 and 3558. On its former lot, Henry then had a jewelbox of a store building constructed to the specifications of the high-end ladies'-wear retailer Switzer's as its first Los Angeles branch; it opened in August 1931. Today the house it replaced, now 105 years old, remains one of the prettiest in Windsor Square, if not in the entire city. Squint slightly and its setting brings back an almost unimaginable Wilshire Boulevard.

Still referred to as the O'Melveny house despite at least four subsequent owners,
501 South Plymouth Boulevard, née 3250 Wilshire Boulevard,
is Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #756.

A distinguished career in law did not wholly characterize Henry O'Melveny, far from it. An October 2, 1995, retrospective in the Los Angeles Times put it well: "As historian Kevin Starr has argued, California's most distinctive contribution to the American spirit may be the insistence that the work ethic and the good life are not mutually incompatible....among Los Angeles's pioneers, there were few who managed to blend commerce and the life of the mind quite as harmoniously as Henry O'Melveny...who lent his considerable talents in equal measure to his law firm, fishing and his flower garden." After he died at Good Samaritan Hospital on April 14, 1941, lengthy obituaries appeared in papers across the country extolling him quite rightly as one of the great developers of Southern California. Not mentioned was his significant contribution to domestic architecture in the form of his own home.

Though she would live into her 101st year, Nette O'Melveny did not remain in the house for long after her husband's death. Within a couple of years it was occupied by oilman Robert Ellis Bering; later, and for many years, the house was owned by Samuel Hole Rindge of the fabled Malibu and 2263 South Harvard Boulevard Rindges. A house that is as much of a backdrop of Los Angeles history as is 501 South Plymouth—for the names O'Melveny, Hole, and Rindge are legendary—now rightly seems unmovable, safe for years to come, if not still on Wilshire Boulevard.

The southwest corner of Wilshire and New Hampshire Avenue in August 2016

Illustrations: Michael Jiroch; Business HistoryLATAngeleno Living;
Google Street View